For years, coconut oil has been extolled as a healthier alternative to butter or other types of cooking oils. But a recent report from American Heart Association (AHA) says that’s not true.
In an updated advisory, the organization says that coconut oil actually contains more saturated fat than butter, beef fat, or pork lard. Previous studies have confirmed that saturated fats can increase the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood, which can clog arteries and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
“Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD, and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil,” the AHA report said.
Coconut oil misconceptions
Health experts say that the misconceptions surrounding coconut oil likely originate from general perceptions of dietary fats. Over the years, many consumers have come to think that plant fats are preferable to animal fats because of the amount of saturated fats they tend to contain.
However, recent findings show that isn’t a hard and fast rule for all vegetable fats. While certain vegetable oils, like olive oil or sunflower oil, have more unsaturated fats, AHA says that 82% of the fat in coconut oil is saturated, well above the amount in butter (63%), beef fat (50%), and pork lard (39%).
These findings largely contrast with public sentiment surrounding coconut oil, though. In its advisory, AHA quotes a recent survey which reported that 72% of Americans rated coconut oil as a “healthy food,” while only 37% of nutritionists said the same thing. And despite claims that the mixture of fats in coconut oil are beneficial, AHA says that there is no good-quality evidence to back up those statements.
Reducing saturated fats
The overriding message of the AHA advisory is that consumers should try to minimize the amount of saturated fats they ingest to avoid cardiovascular risks.
“We want to set the record straight on why well-conducted scientific research overwhelmingly supports limiting saturated fat in the diet to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels,” said Dr. Frank Sacks, lead author of the AHA advisory, according to a BBC report.
Health experts say that consumers should strive to reduce the overall amount of fat in their diets, but special attention should be paid to reducing saturated fats. Substituting these fats for products with unsaturated fats can often make a huge difference in terms of cardiovascular health, they say.